The Indianapolis Colts roster is set to be one of the youngest across the NFL for the 2023 season. It has a mixture of proven veterans with young talent for Shane Steichen’s first year as a head coach.
With OTAs wrapping up and only mandatory minicamp standing in the way of summer break, it’s time to take a look at the top end of the roster and at the players who are likely to have the biggest impact on the season.
Here are the top 20 players on the Colts entering the upcoming season:
Deforest Buckner has appeared in 49 games since the Colts traded for him in 2020. In that time he’s collected 200 tackles (121 solo), 31 tackles for loss, 24.5 sacks, 66 quarterback hits, nine pass deflections, two fumble recoveries, four forced fumbles, and forced a safety. He earned a first-team All-Pro honor in his first season with Indianapolis. Buckner’s been a consistent force for the Indy defense and is one of the respected leaders in the locker room.
Jonathan Taylor is just a season removed from his All-Pro year that had him in the MVP conversation. He’s appeared in 43 games in his first three seasons with the Colts. He has run for 3,841 yards and 33 rushing touchdowns. He also has 802 receiving yards and three receiving touchdowns. The star back will be looking to rebound and remind people he’s one of the best skill position players in the NFL.
Quenton Nelson has been an All-Pro guard in four of his five seasons in the NFL. He will look to have a bounce-back year after a disappointing 2022 season. The leader of the Colts offensive line sets the tone for the unit and having him getting back to his All-Pro form will be vital for the first season under Shane Steichen.
The return of Shaquille Leonard will be a major boost for the Indy defense. He’s earned first-team All-Pro honors in his three of his first four seasons in the league. Prior to missing essentially the entire 2022 season, Leonard had 122 tackles (75 solo), four tackles for loss, three quarterbck hits, eight pass deflections, four interceptions, eight forced fumbles, and three fumble recoveries during the 2021 campaign. Leonard’s takeaway ability will be a welcome sight for Gus Bradley’s unit whenever he returns.
CB Kenny Moore II
Kenny Moore II is one of the longest-tenured players on the Colts defense. In his seven seasons with the team, he has 423 tackles (345 solo), 24 tackles for loss, eight sacks, 13 quarterback hits, 49 pass deflections, 14 interceptions, a fumble recovery, and forced four fumbles. He earned his first Pro Bowl nod in the 2021 season. Moore II will be looking to make more of an impact in 2023 after having his first season in his career where he didn’t get an interception in 2022.
Grover Stewart is the unsung hero of the Colts defense. He’s been a staple for the unit since he took over as one of the starting defensive tackles in 2019. His durability has been crucial for the Indy defense. He hasn’t missed a game over the last four seasons. Stewart is coming off a career year with 70 tackles (44 solo), nine TFLs, four sacks, seven QB hits, three pass deflections, and a fumble recovery.
Zaire Franklin is coming off a breakout season in which he broke the Colts franchise record for the most tackles in a season with 167. That is 73 more tackles than he had in his first four seasons in the NFL. He also had 12 tackles for loss, three sacks, six quarterback hits, six pass deflections, and two forced fumbles. Franklin has supplanted himself as one of the best players on the roster.
DE Kwity Paye
Kwity Paye is an ascending player on the roster that is set to have a breakout year in his third season. In 27 games he has 77 tackles (48 solo), 13 tackles, 10 sacks, 20 quarterback hits, a pass deflection, three fumble recoveries, and forced a fumble. Paye will be looking to get double-digit sacks and earn his first honors in the upcoming season.
Michael Pittman Jr. has been a steady player for the Colts in his first three seasons in the league. He has 227 receptions for 2,510 yards and 11 touchdowns in his career. He also has 100 rushing yards. Pittman Jr. will have his sights on having his first 100 reception and double-digit touchdown season in his fourth year.
RT Braden Smith
Braden Smith has been one of the better right tackles throughout his career despite not getting a lot of recognition for his past performances. Just like for the entire Colts offensive line, Smith is coming off a down year. To his credit, he was the most consistent player in his unit in 2022 and showed he can still battle with the best edge rushers in the NFL.
Ryan Kelly has been with the Colts longer than any player on the roster. He has an All-Pro season in his career and has made the Pro Bowl three times. Kelly’s intelligence and experience should help the development of Anthony Richardson. Just like Nelson and Smith, he’s looking to rebound from his 2022 season.
QB Anthony Richardson
Anthony Richardson has yet to play an NFL game but he finds himself on this list because of his ceiling as a player and projecting where he will be by the end of his rookie season. The jury is still out on when he will take over as the starting quarterback for the Colts but all the signs from the decision-makers in the organization point to him playing sooner than later. Richardson’s athleticism and pocket presence should help him find success in Year 1.
Samson Ebukam joined the Colts this offseason after spending the last two seasons with the San Francisco 49ers. He started in 26 of his 32 games with San Fran. In that time he had 74 tackles (42 solo), 12 tackles for loss, nine and a half sacks, 24 quarterback hits, two pass deflections, a fumble recovery, and forced two fumbles. Ebukam is taking over as the starting LEO for Gus Bradley’s defense and will look to form a top rush tandem with Kwity Paye.
Dayo Odeyingbo is entering a potential breakout season in Year 3. After spending his rookie year working his way back from a torn Achilles, he was able to flash his ability in 2022. Last year he finished with 31 tackles (18 solo), five tackles for loss, five sacks, and 11 quarterback hits. Odeyingbo’s versatility gives Gus Bradley flexibility on how he will deploy him in the rotation.
Julian Blackmon finds himself as one of the veterans of the Colts secondary despite only entering his fourth year in the league. He’s started in 31 of 35 games while collecting 126 tackles (98 solo), seven tackles for loss, three interceptions, nine pass deflections, a sack, a quarterback hit, a fumble recovery, and forced two fumbles. Blackmon is transitioning to strong safety after starting his career as a free safety.
WR Alec Pierce
Alec Pierce is coming off a solid rookie season after starting in 12 of the 16 games he played in. He finished with 41 receptions for 593 yards and two touchdowns. The second-year receiver will be a vertical threat in Shane Steichen’s offense and should be able to double his production from his first year in the NFL.
S Rodney Thomas II
Rodney Thomas II ended up being a pleasant surprise for the Colts after being a seventh-round pick in the 2022 NFL draft. After taking advantage of getting an opportunity to start due to Julian Blackmon being injured, he carved out a role in the defense and ended up starting in 10 games as a rookie. He ended up leading the team with six interceptions. Thomas II is set to be the starting free safety with Blackmon shifting to the strong safety spot.
LB E.J. Speed
E.J. Speed has steadily improved throughout his first four seasons in the NFL. After spending most of his career as a core special teamer, he got a chance for more playing time in 2022 with Shaquille Leonard out of the lineup. He finished with 63 tackles (37 solo), seven tackles for loss, one sack, one quarterback hit, two pass deflections, and two forced fumbles. Speed is expected to continue to have a role with the starting defense after Bobby Okereke’s departure in free agency.
TE Jelani Woods
Jelani Woods flashed his talent throughout his rookie season despite not seeing a consistent role. He finished with 25 receptions for 312 yards and three touchdowns. He led all the tight ends on the Indy roster with the most receiving yards in 2022. Woods has untapped potential that Shane Steichen will be looking to get the most out of this season.
Bernhard Raimann’s rookie season got off to a rocky start but as the season came along and he got more comfortable, he ended his first year on a strong note. The second-year left tackle impressed the front office enough that they didn’t sign a veteran as competition to push him for his role. Raimann will be looking to form one of the top bookend tackles in the NFL with Braden Smith.